Called to comfort: Mass. military chaplains provide support during COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Capt. Bonnie Blakely
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing

BOSTON — During these challenging times, people are seeking comfort and compassion to help them not only with any medical issues they may be facing, but also the emotional challenges that come with increased stress.

Chaplains from the Massachusetts National Guard (MANG), as well as the Massachusetts Organized Militia, have been visiting Soldiers and Airmen throughout the state to provide additional spiritual support during the COVID-19 response efforts. 

“What we’ve been doing is integrating or trying to meet with the military people, the civilian people, the staff members, the doctors and nurses,” said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Darin Colarusso, 102nd Intelligence Wing, “and also starting to integrate or minister to the patients, the residents.”

The primary role of chaplains is to provide spiritual care for the troops. Regardless of the chaplain’s specific denomination.

“For everybody I could be an ear to listen to, someone to counsel, also advise leadership on religious affairs and whatever spiritual needs that the unit has,” Colarusso said.

There are two primary aspects to chaplaincy, explained Chaplain (Maj.) Peter Preble, Massachusetts Organized Militia. There’s the worship service part, which is usually what comes to mind when people think of a priest or minister. And then there’s ministry of presence, which involves meeting people where they are and serving in any way they can. 

“I’ve heard people say we bring a sense of calm to the room when we come in,” Preble said. “They know that the chaplain is there, they know we’re there for them, and so it makes them feel a little bit better and a little bit easier. I’m happy to provide that.”

Chaplains have been able to help more than just military members during this pandemic. They have also been integrating with civilian staff members and patients at various health care facilities. 

“The first message for those who have COVID or are a civilian or are the ones we’re ministering to is ‘you're not alone’,” Colarusso said. “The solution to this problem is isolation, and if you have the disease and you’re even more isolated and you can’t see your family. There’s an aspect where you say, ‘You’re not alone. There are other people suffering what you’re suffering, there are people here to walk with you, people are praying for you, and most importantly, God is with you.’ ” 

The Massachusetts military chaplains have also had the opportunity to help community members by providing services at state hospitals. This has allowed hospital staff members to have access to religious services on site, providing them a bit of rejuvenation from their days of service on the front lines of the coronavirus. 

The Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke is one location where guard chaplains have been able to provide services. The home has a chapel with broadcasting capabilities, allowing the chaplain to give a service in person to any military members or staff who can attend, while also having the service televised to the patients’ rooms, Colarusso said.

From civilian essential workers, to COVID-19 patients, to Soldiers and Airmen tasked to a variety of missions across the state, the chaplain corps continues to help people wherever they go and to remind everyone that they are not alone in whatever challenges they may be facing. 

“God is present with us all the time,” Preble said. “I know sometimes it’s hard to feel that way when we're going through all of this, but God is there and does understand what we’re going through. And I think that’s the message that we bring. We’re going to get through this.”